George Chua has never thought of slowing down just yet.
In fact, the concurrent president of the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), like many sought-after chief executive officers, still holds top posts in a number of companies and recently ventured into a new industry.
Chua has made a foray into the automotive industry with the establishment of Bayan Automotive Industries Corporation (BAIC Philippines) that markets vehicles from China that are manufactured by BAIC International Corporation, which is under the BAIC Group. The group’s official name is Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. Ltd. from where the BAIC brand name was coined.
Although he interacted with the automotive industry during his 15-year stint with the banking industry, BAIC Philippines is his first real venture into the vehicle industry.
Since its launching at the Philippine International Motoring Show on September 2014, BAIC Philippines has grown its network to seven dealerships in the Philippines: Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City; Jose Abad Santos, Manila; Malolos, Bulacan; Iloilo City; Bacolod City; Tacloban City; and Cebu City.
BAIC Philippines currently offers a line-up comprising vans, cars and a sport utility vehicle (SUV), and Chua envisions the eight- to 11-seater MZ40 minivan, which is priced from P468,000, becoming the “people’s car” in the country.
He said the MZ40 has features that appeal to the Filipino family and takes into account the culture of extended families.
“And what are typically these features? Size, space, if you notice Filipinos like to have extended families. Sure, we can find sub 1.0-liter type of vehicle that has name brand, but the seating capacity is only four,” Chua added, referring to affordable vehicles from the more popular brands that have limited seating capacity.
“I do not have ambitions to see that [MZ40] in Forbes park or anything like that,” Chua added.
When it comes to higher-class vehicles, BAIC Philippines offers the X424 SUV that traces its roots to the off-road vehicles used by China’s military. It is priced at P1.798 million.
Chua boasts the X424 got a better rating from a local automotive magazine compared to the similar model offered by Jeep of the United States.
From guns to vehicles
Prior to being tapped by the Lee family of Universal Motors Corporation (UMC) to market BAIC vehicles in the country, Lee had a fruitful stint with the Arms Corporation of the Philippines (Armscor). He was hired by Armscor to make the company more efficient.
“In the case of Armscor, I was a professional hired to turn the company around. They had some financial issues, they had to restructure some of their debt and also we had to make the company more profitable,” Chua, also a gun enthusiast, said.
“We retired debts, we improved efficiency of operations, we were able to negotiate with the union about certain issues,” he added.
Eventually, Armscor became a profitable company and expanded its domestic and export markets. But Chua, who joined the company in 2006, decided to leave the company at the end of 2013 because he was not a shareholder of Armscor.
“Well, it was about time for me to go, because I was not a shareholder. So I felt that as a non-shareholder, my options for [advancing in Armscor]was limited. How can you progress beyond that?,” he said.
His resigning from Armscor opened the opportunity for him to go into the automotive industry, this time to market one of the leading Chinese vehicle brands with an offer coming from the Lee Family of UMC.
Chua said since UMC was no longer active in marketing Nissan light commercial vehicles (LCVs) in the country after Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI) was formed in September 2013, the Lee family was considering another brand that it could market locally.
“Actually, Universal Motors Corp. has been in my wife’s family for a long time, the Lee family, and they have been in business for something like 60 years. And essentially after Nissan Philippines Inc. took over the consolidated operations or management [of the Nissan brand in the country], the former UMC through their principals just become shareholders,” he added.
“So they [UMC] were no longer involved in the management [of Nissan], so the distribution of the LCVs of Nissan was already taken over by NPI,” Chua said.
The Lee family actually asked Chua if he could run the operations of the company that would market the new brand. He would accept the offer on condition that he would be a shareholder of the company.
“So I said, ‘You know that’s fine, I don’t mind running it. But I needed to be an equity holder because I decided not to work for companies anymore that I did not have any equity position in,’” Chua said.
His shareholding in BAIC Philippines, although he did not reveal it, was enough to give him a seat in the company’s five-man board.
Chua said the BAIC brand is already international.
“Essentially over the years, BAIC has become more international. They are actually a Global Fortune 500 company and their ranking for 2014 was No. 207. That actually makes them bigger than many, you might say, more recognizable brands in the Philippines. But it [BAIC] has been around for a longer time,” he said.
Daimler AG of Germany, which manufactures Mercedes Benz vehicles, is also a shareholder in BAIC International with two board seats. Also, BAIC International has facilities beyond China that allows it produce and design vehicles that are more international in nature.
“Aside from their different distributorships throughout the world, they have different facilities for both research and development, and design. Their R&D center is in Turin, Italy, and it is headed by their chief designer who came from Pininfarina and Ferrari,” Chua said.
Although there is still a perception that products that are manufactured or designed in China are inferior compared to those from the West, Chua said he and the Lee family believe in the BAIC brand.
“I would not say we are the exception [when it comes to quality among Chinese products], because if you think about it, you hear about the bad things, but not about the good things. For example all your Iphones are made in China,” he said.
“In our case, we stand by our products as we [UMC] have for the last 60 years, in that we provide a three-year, 100,000-kilometer warranty,” Chua added.
Given his current involvement with the BAIC brand in the Philippines, it is obvious Chua has no intentions of slowing down. Also, given the type of education his family provided him, one of the first things in his mind is to continue serving the country. Chua finished his BS Mechanical Engineering and BS Industrial Engineering studies at the De La Salle University in 1981 and went on to complete his Master in Business Administration (MBA), Major in Finance and Management at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania in 1985.
And in 2013, Chua completed his Command and General Staff Course. He is currently a Lieutenant Colonel (reserve) in the Philippine Army, Media Affairs Group Commander, and a Commodore in the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary. Last but not least, he has been involved with FPI for at least 15 years.
“My parents had me educated up to MBA, so the expectations from my parents of course are high. So my feeling is I like to make a contribution to society for the betterment of the lives of Filipinos,” Chua said.
“First of all, I’m 56 and I think retirement is not an option for me at this time. Maybe once the BAIC brand becomes No. 1 in the Philippines, I can retire,” he added with a hearty laugh.